A Boy and His Horse (by BettyHT)

Summary: In the tenth story of the Traci series, Adam has to teach his son some difficult lessons when his son finds a valuable horse trapped in some barbed wire.
Rating:  T
Word Count:  15,038

Traci Series:
First Love, and Tragedy (by BettyHT)
A Triangle (by BettyHT)
Another Angle (By BettyHT)
A New Angle (by BettyHT)
A Trust Broken and Fixed (by BettyHT)
I Still Love You (by BettyHT)
The Black Egg (by BettyHT)
Another Guise (by BettyHT)
Runaways (by BettyHT)
A Boy and His Horse (by BettyHT)
Frogs and Other Stuff (by BettyHT)
An Island (by BettyHT)

 


A Boy and His Horse

Chapter 1

Dusk had darkened the land and there were only shadows and indistinct shapes as Adam rode looking for his son. Traci was at the house worried about him and worry like this was the worst thing for her in her condition. Matthew had gone out earlier for a walk. That had been hours ago just after dinner. They had only been on the Ponderosa for a few weeks and Adam worried that his son had gotten lost and wandered further from home. Hoss and Joe were out looking as well, and some of the hands had saddled up to help search when the brothers did not return in the first half hour. Ben stood with Traci on the porch trying to reassure her that he was sure they would find Matthew but in his heart, he wasn’t sure. There were so many dangers especially in the dark and for a boy who had spent his life in the city.

As Adam rode, he thought he heard singing. It sounded like his son, but it stopped and started so often, he was having a difficult time getting a fix on the origin. He must have been getting closer because he was hearing it more and more clearly as he rode. He strained to see in the darkness and called out his son’s name. Finally there was an answer but fairly soft spoken which made Adam worry even more. Finally he rode close enough to hear his son’s voice.

“Papa, over here. Over here.”

Even as Adam heard him, he heard the sob in the voice which scared him immensely. He had lost a son, and the thought that any harm had come to this son made his heart beat so hard it hurt. As he rode up though, he saw the shape of a horse next to his son.

“Papa, not too close. He’s really scared.”

Dismounting and ground tying Sport, Adam rushed forward. His son was stroking the neck of a large black horse that was tangled in barbed wire.

“Papa, I wanted to come home, but whenever I walk away, he jumps around and hurts himself even more. He is only still like this when I’m near him. Oh, Papa, you have to help him. He’s really hurt.”

Tears were flowing as Matthew explained the problem to his father.

“Matthew, your mother and I were worried sick about you.”

“I know. I knew you would be. I got a little lost, and when I figured out the direction to walk because I could see the smoke from the house, I found this horse. I didn’t know what to do. If I left him, he could hurt himself even more, and if I didn’t leave him, you and Mama would be upset.”

Wrapping an arm around his son, Adam began to stroke the horse as well, and it calmed under their soft touches. Matthew was cold, and Adam took his coat and wrapped it around his son. Then Adam told Matthew to gather some kindling and wood if he could from a tree not far from where they were. Once he got back, Adam used the material and his handkerchief to make a crude torch. He lit it and told Matthew to find more wood.

Using the torch, Adam went back to take a good look at the horse. It shied from the flame of the torch so Adam did what Matthew had done and sang soft sweet lullabies to it. The animal calmed so Adam could do a more thorough examination. The horse had many sores including a number on its legs that must have occurred over the last week because some had slightly healed, others were fresh, and a few looked infected. There were bleeding gashes from the barbed wire. As far as he could tell, there were no broken bones. Once Matthew brought more wood, Adam made a small campfire. Any of the searchers who saw it would come right to them.

Candy and one of the hands were the first ones there. Adam asked if one of them could take Matthew back to the house and then bring a wire cutter out to them. Matthew wanted to object but knew he shouldn’t. Adam helped him mount up on Sport and handed the reins to Candy. Sport could be difficult to ride and in the dark, far too difficult for his son to manage. Soon after, Hoss and Joe rode up, and Adam explained the situation.

“Hoss, could you take a look at this horse and tell me what you think.”

“I think you want me to tell you that we can save this animal.”

“Yes, I do. But I do want you to tell me the truth. You, more than anyone, will know if the pain to this animal would be worth it. He’s hurt badly, but I don’t see anything that looks like a broken bone. His legs look sturdy.”

The horse shied from Hoss so Adam moved up to stroke its neck and sing to it. It calmed enough that Hoss was even able to check each leg as he worked his way around the horse.

“Well?”

“I think there’s a good chance this horse can be saved. If we can keep it upright and clean out the infections on its legs, it’ll make it.”

“And if we can’t?”

“You know as well as I do that infections in the legs are the hardest to deal with on a horse. If we can’t get those cleaned up, it will move into the bones and joints. Then there’ll only be one choice. Do you want to put Matthew through that? He could get his hopes up and then have them smashed down again.”

“He already risked his life for this horse. If you think we can do it, then let’s try.”

Candy returned with wire cutters, Adam’s jacket, and Sport.

“How’s Traci handling it?”

“All right, I think. There were a lot of tears, but your Pa and Jillian are there helping.”

Using the wire cutters and with men holding lanterns, Adam and Hoss were able to cut the horse free. Adam had to keep singing to it and frequently stroking its neck to keep it calm. Finally all the strands were pulled away and the horse was free. Adam had slipped a halter on it when he was cutting wire away from its front legs, and he used it then to walk it slowly away from where it had been trapped. When he tried to mount up on Sport to lead the horse home though, it became very agitated, and he had to dismount and soothe it again.

“Older brother, I think you’re gonna have to walk that animal home, and I remember how much you love walking.”

Hoss laughed and Adam scowled at him. That set both Joe and Hoss into giggles. It had been a long time since they had seen that scowl. It didn’t scare them anymore. Well at least in this situation it didn’t scare them. Adam muttered to the horse and began walking home leading both the injured horse and Sport.

Once Adam reached the stable an hour later, Hoss already had a space cleared for the horse and all the things they would need to tend to him. From the house, they heard a boy’s cheer. Matthew had asked his grandfather what would be done with the horse, and Ben had explained that if the horse couldn’t be saved, they would have to end its misery, but that he was sure Hoss and Adam would do their best if the horse could be saved. Matthew was a very intelligent boy so he knew what his grandfather meant with those words. When he saw the horse walk into the yard with his father, he was overjoyed and wanted to go help. Traci told him it was no place for a boy to be, and Ben backed her up on that one. After hearing Matthew’s description of the injuries, he knew his sons would have some gruesome work ahead of them cleaning out infected wounds and stitching up cuts.

Hours later, long after Matthew had been sent to bed, Adam walked into the house. He waved Traci off and said he needed to clean up before he touched anyone or anything but did ask her to bring clean clothing to the washroom for him. Traci delivered the clothing and sat in the washroom with him as he cleaned up and told her what he knew.

“We know now why he was so frightened and why being close helped him calm down. He’s nearly blind in one eye from an infection. Looks like the eye was scratched or poked somehow and now its filmy with infection. Hoss thinks we can save the eye but the eyesight is probably already affected. Otherwise, most of the wounds thankfully were superficial. We did have to stitch a few, and the infected ones on his legs are going to need to be cleaned out and redressed often. Hoss is confident we can take care of those too.”

“Adam, don’t be too confident when you tell our son though. I don’t want his hopes to be raised too much in case you can’t take care of those infections.”

“I won’t. I am hopeful though. Do you think he’s still awake?”

“Would you have been at that age in a similar circumstance?”

Smiling Adam leaned down to kiss her before making his way upstairs to tell Matthew he was hopeful but that the next few days would be critical. He knew his son would likely have trouble sleeping, but he told him the best thing would be for him to be rested if he wanted to help with the hard work of caring for an injured animal as large as that horse. Matthew agreed but asked his father how he could sleep when he was so excited about all that had happened.

“Breathe deeply and slowly and think of other things.”

That must have worked because when Adam checked on his son later, he was sleeping.

Chapter 2

The next morning, Matthew wanted to run to the stable immediately upon arising and dressing, but his parents had expected that. Traci intercepted him.

“You will have breakfast with the family first before you can go to the stable. You will have to have Hoss’ or your father’s permission before you go too. They’ll tell us how the horse is doing and whether any visitors are allowed.”

Reluctantly, Matthew trudged to the dining table to await the rest of the family.

“Would you like some hot chocolate as you wait?” Ben liked his grandson. Sitting at the table savoring some coffee as he waited for the others, he realized how like his father Matthew was as he sat there silently. “We could talk and the time would pass faster. How did you learn to ride? Candy said you sat Sport like you knew what you were doing. If I had known that, I would have offered a horse for you to ride here.”

“Papa and Mama went riding every weekend. They took me with them. Then when I learned to ride better, I was able to go to the stable every day after school and ride. I couldn’t go far by myself so the stablemaster taught me more about riding. Papa said my long legs let me ride a bigger horse so I needed to be a better rider.”

That was the most that Ben had learned about his grandson’s life in New England. Now he was intrigued. “What other things did you learn?”

“Oh, the most fun was Papa teaching me to swim. Mama doesn’t know it, but we took off all of our clothing when we swam in the ocean. It was a lot of fun. I got scared once when there was a shark there. We didn’t swim in the ocean much after that. Papa found a pond not far from our house, and we swam there after that usually. We couldn’t take all our clothes off there though. Papa said we could be discovered. I think he was worried the most about Mama finding out.”

“What about other children? Did you have some you played with?”

As he asked the questions, Ben wanted to kick himself. He had reminded his grandson now about everything he had lost. Adam had told him that Matthew was having trouble accepting that they would never return to their home in Nantucket for he had loved it there. Matthew didn’t know his family in Nevada, had no friends here, and had not learned much yet about the area either as Adam and Traci wanted to spend as much time as possible with family. They were planning to take a trip to Arizona soon too so that Matthew could meet the rest of his extended family.

“I miss my friends. Papa says I’ll make new ones here, but even my cousins call me names. I’m not sure if I’ll have friends here.”

Ben was shocked to find that Matthew had been called names. “What do they call you?”

“Oh, nothing too terrible. They just think I can’t do anything because I lived in New England. They think I can’t ride or anything like that. Now that I got lost when I was out walking, they will probably come up with some names to call me because of that too.”

“What do you say when they say things to you?”

“I don’t say anything. I turn and walk away. That’s what Papa said to do when people call me names. He said it isn’t worth a fight.”

Even though Matthew said the words with little emotion, Ben could see how he tensed up on the chair and held himself rigidly. There was a lot of anger building in this boy, and Ben worried about what would happen. He decided he needed to talk to Adam. Matthew had more to say though.

“Papa says it is only right to fight to defend yourself or someone else. I know how to fight. Papa took me to his boxing club.”

That surprised Ben a great deal. In fact, he was shocked for he thought that meant it was gambling on boxing that happened at such a club. Instead Matthew clarified it.

“Papa said that we could be too soft for a fight unless we were prepared so we both boxed in the morning very early. We had to run first to warm up. Papa likes running, but I don’t. Papa runs here sometimes early in the morning, but he said I didn’t have to until we get a place and put in a heavy bag.”

“What’s a heavy bag?”

“It’s a leather bag you hang from the ceiling, and then you punch it.”

“Oh, I hear my son is informing you of how we worked out to stay in shape. We’ll have to start doing something like that here too.”

“You don’t think ranch work will be enough?”

Adam hesitated to speak as he sat and poured a cup of coffee. “Pa, I wasn’t planning to work on the ranch. We’ll live here, but I’ve been making a living as an architect and would like to continue that. I have enough of a professional reputation now that I can get commissions no matter where I live.”

As his father looked so disappointed, Adam amended his statement. “I’ll help out when you need me, but the ranch has been doing fine with Hoss and Joe. I don’t want to interfere with that.”

“The cattle and horse operations are doing fine, yes. But our mining and timber operations have been waning. I would like to see some improvement there. Perhaps you could look over our operations and make some recommendations?”

“Of course, I can do that. I have to tell you though that I liquidated all my silver mine investments. With the price of silver where it is, most mines are barely making any profit at all, and soon many will likely shut down.”

Before the conversation on that went any further, Hoss walked in with news on the horse.

“Well, Matthew, that horse of yours is showing some improvement. He’s eating and drinking. The swelling on the legs has gone down quite a bunch. Now don’t get your hopes up too much. We still have those infections to deal with, but it is looking better than last night.”

“Can I go see him?”

“After breakfast. Your papa and I will change the dressings one more time, and then you can see him. Bring him an apple or two when you do. He’s darn skinny. Probably hasn’t been eating well for at least a week or probably more.”

Adam had a question though about what had led to all of this trouble for the horse. “Why was there a tangle of barbed wire lying there where any horse or cow could tangle with it?”

Hoss looked down at his plate, and Ben took a deep breath.

“Candy, is handling it, son. We had men working in fence lines, and they were supposed to bring all scraps and tangles of wire back here to the forge. Apparently some men thought it would be too difficult to haul it back so threw it in a gully with brush thinking it was out of the way. Other men were sent later to clear that gully of brush, and they tossed the barbed wire aside and forgot about it. There may be one or two less hands on this ranch by the end of the day.”

Nodding his head, Adam finished his breakfast. Then he and Hoss went out to see to the horse. True to his word, Hoss walked in to tell Matthew that he could go see his horse less than an hour later. It was funny but they were all talking about him as Matthew’s horse. Adam was concerned though as he looked at the horse in daylight. It obviously was well bred and appeared to be well trained too. This was no horse that had wandered away from a ranch or a trail drive. He knew he would have to put a notice in the paper about finding this stallion, and he feared the owner would likely be anxious to get him back. However now the stallion would be scarred and likely have poor vision in one eye so perhaps the owner would be willing to sell him. Adam hoped that would be the case for he could tell his son was already emotionally attached to the animal as anyone would expect after it was his effort that had led to the animal being rescued. His hope that Matthew would not name him and become even more attached lasted only minutes.

“Papa, I want to call him Phoenix. It’s an Arizona name so Mama will like it, and he kinda did rise again from the ashes, didn’t he?”

“Yes, son, he did. But Matthew, he belongs to someone already. This is no wild horse or stray. I have to put a notice in the paper that we found him. The owner may show up to claim him.”

“Papa, I thought you said people out here branded their horses. This horse doesn’t have a brand.”

“I know, but if he’s a show horse, they would not have branded him. He could be quite a valuable animal.”

As Matthew fed the horse a second apple, his shoulders slumped. At that moment, Adam decided he needed to buy his son a horse. If he couldn’t get this one, then he needed to find another, and as soon as he could. He would talk to Joe about the horses to see if there was one on the ranch that would be appropriate for his son. Adam remembered his first horse and how he had loved that animal. When Joe had ridden him without permission and that horse had been hurt, Adam had been livid with anger at his brother. But he had taken his rifle and ended the life of his beloved mount. When he came back from college, his father had let him choose another horse, and he had chosen Sport who was getting old now and was suitable only for light casual riding. Soon Adam knew he would lose him too, and he knew too that his son might suffer that kind of loss even sooner if an owner showed up to claim Phoenix.

Chapter 3

Working every day with Phoenix, Adam and Hoss managed to get all the wounds to heal including those that had been infected. After a week, the horse was restless and wanted out of the stable. Adam led him to the corral, and they got a good look at him for the first time. His black coat had red highlights in the sun. He seemed to glow. He held himself very proudly and stood tall and muscular but with great balance holding his head almost as if he was in a pose. Looking him over for some time with the rest of the family, Adam went to the stable and found the lightest saddle he could find in the tack room. He brought that and a thin blanket with him to the corral.

“Adam, you shur ya want to do that? We don’t know much at all about that horse, and at your age, you could be hurt bad if he decides to buck ya off.”

“Hoss, he isn’t going to buck me off. Have a little confidence, would you please.”

“Adam, are you sure? Hoss knows a lot about horses too.”

“Traci, I’m sure. Now if everyone will just be quiet, I’m going to saddle this horse and see what he can do.”

Once Adam had Phoenix saddled, he mounted up and the horse stood absolutely still as Adam sat straight in the saddle and did nothing.

“Hey, older brother, ya done forgot how to ride out there in the east, didn’t ya?”

“Ya, Hoss, he’s waiting for the horse to tell him what to do.” Joe thought it was funny and didn’t realize Adam was testing the horse.

Then with a slight tug of the reins, the horse did a wide turn and began walking almost in a prancing gait around the corral. Adam pulled the reins and the horse did a tight turn. He pressed his knee to one side and the horse sidestepped to the opposite side, and then pressed his knee on the other side and the horse sidestepped the opposite way. Then a slight tug and the horse began that prancing walk again. By this time, there was a crowd gathering around the corral, and the horse seemed to enjoy that as he seemed to pick up his head and hold it even more than he had. No one could even see the moves that Adam was doing to command the horse. It looked like the horse was going through a routine.

Phoenix was a powerful horse, but showed how supple he was too with the moves he made. Wondering a little and trying to remember what he had learned so many years before, Adam got the horse to bow to the crowd and then move around the corral turning on point several times. Next, Adam remembered how to ask for piaffe, and the horse trotted so slowly that the he almost appeared to be trotting in place. It was amazing as the opposing front and rear hooves left the ground at the same time. Then as the grand finale, Adam had him rear up on his hind legs. Traci gasped, but when Adam did it a second and third time, she realized he was commanding the horse to do it, and that made her a little angry at him for frightening her. Finally, Adam walked the horse to the fence and dismounted.

“And that, family and friends, is le dressage. I did some riding like that when I was in college and had a friend whose family had horses trained to do that.”

“That was some fancy riding, Adam. Not much good on a ranch, but that was doggone purty to watch.”

“Yes, Hoss, and that means that this horse is far more valuable than we first thought. Someone spent a lot of money training him, but the training was brutal. That’s why there are a number of small whip marks and spur marks that we saw when we examined him up close. Those wouldn’t be visible though if people were watching him perform. They would be far enough away so that dark coat would hide them.”

“All scarred up by the barbed wire now, he ain’t so much to look at, but boy howdy, he sure can do some tricks.” Hoss was impressed seeing great animals, and there was no specimen of horse that he had ever seen that could match this one.

“Papa, we can’t let him go back to the man who did that to him then, can we? We need to keep him here where he’s safe.”

“Matthew, we’ll just have to wait and see. I’ll offer to buy him if someone comes to claim him, but we don’t own him so we can’t make those decisions for him.”

Over the next few days, Adam instructed Matthew in the art of dressage. It was fairly easy to do as Phoenix was so well trained and dressage commands are not supposed to be visible to the audience so Matthew’s light touch was perfect. He was much too young to ride the horse without supervision though so Adam was called to the corral several times each day to supervise his son’s riding. As Matthew’s cousins watched him ride with confidence, their opinion of him changed too. He was far more adept at riding than any of them were despite his city clothing and refined speech which had led them to believe he had no such skills.

Everything improved quite a bit more for Matthew when Adam took him to town so the two of them could purchase more appropriate clothing. Adam and Traci were planning to go visit her family, and their eastern style clothing would stand out even more as they traveled south to Arizona.

That trip to Arizona had Adam concerned, and as he stood on the porch one evening talking with his father about the silver mine investments the Ponderosa had, Ben just asked.

“How far along is she?”

Looking at his father in surprise, Adam finally just smiled. “About three months. How did you know?”

“Oh, Traci is a strong woman, and you always treated her that way except when she was with child the first time, and of course when you lost AC. You have been so gentle with her, and she looks so happy but tired. It was the only conclusion I could draw.”

“I am worried. At her age, many women have problems. I just don’t know if a trip to Arizona is the right thing to do right now, but I know how she has missed her family.”

“We still have the carriage her parents gave you. That would be far more comfortable than a stagecoach. But I do think it would be wise to take a couple of men with you. There are still often Apache raids there, and a couple of extra guns couldn’t hurt.”

“I don’t know who I could get. After eight years, I’m not familiar with a lot of the people around here.”

“You do know you’re looking at one man who could go. I think that we could find at least one of the hands who wouldn’t mind a trip to Arizona.”

“You’re not too busy here?”

“After the party on Sunday, there’s nothing I have to do here. As you have seen, Hoss and Joe can handle things.”

“Thank you, Pa. Traci will be pleased.”

So after the big family party on Sunday, Adam and the others began packing for a trip. Adam sent telegrams to Arizona letting them know they were on their way. The party had been a good time for Adam and Traci to start getting to know Jamie and his wife as well as Joe’s wife whom they had not met until they got back to Nevada although they had exchanged letters. The children had a wonderful time, and Traci shared her news with her sisters-in-law so there was even more to celebrate. Then on that Monday, they headed south for Arizona where they met Darren’s wife and their twins.

Of course there was another big party before they began to make the return trip two weeks later. By the time they returned, Traci was exhausted and Adam helped her to the bedroom they were using and made sure she was asleep. From the look on his brothers’ faces when they arrived home, Adam knew something bad had happened. Then when Hoss gave instructions to Matthew to unpack and change before going to the stable, he had a very good idea of what that was.

“So, Hoss, Phoenix is gone?”

“Yeah, we got a telegram shortly after you left. The owner got here at the end of last week and claimed him. He had all the right papers. He’s a disagreeable man, but he treated the horse decently. He was upset at how he looks now but said he would still be very valuable for stud service.”

“Did you make an offer to buy?”

“Yes, and he said there is no price cause he’s not for sale. He said anyone looking at him could see he couldn’t be replaced. Sorry, brother, but I think he’s gone for good. Joe did get some use out of him though.”

“Use?”

“Oh yeah, we put him with a bunch of our brood mares for over a week. As soon as I knew the owner was coming to get him, and Phoenix was more than happy to help out. We should have some handsome foals from him. Don’t you worry. We’ll make sure the best one goes to Matthew.”

“Yeah, that’s going help because it will be a tough talk I have to have with him.”

“Time you get ready then. Here he comes.”

Hoss turned and motioned with his head to Joe, and they walked to the porch as Matthew headed to where his father stood. Hardly bothering to acknowledge his uncles, Matthew looked worried and stopped next to Adam who was looking into the open corral.

“Matthew, as I warned you, Phoenix is gone. His owner came for him, and he won’t sell him.”

Standing rigidly still, Matthew said nothing. He turned and walked toward the stable. Adam took a deep breath and followed him. He knew how much his son was like him, and to some extent, like Hoss too. He would hold it all in if he could. Adam just wanted to be near him if he was needed. Inside the stable, Matthew sat on a bale of hay, and Adam sat beside him. Not moving and staying silent for a long time, Matthew finally spoke.

“I really loved that horse, Papa. Isn’t there anything you can do?”

“Other than finding a horse just as beautiful and smart as he is but without the scars to trade for him, no. And Matthew, we may have quite a bit of money, but I don’t have enough to find a horse to trade for Phoenix. He’s gone. He won’t be abused anymore because he isn’t show horse material any more. He’ll spend his days running in the fields with mares and hopefully siring a lot of foals.”

“Can we at least get one of his foals?”

Holding back a smile, Adam had at least some good news for his son. “Your uncles may have taken care of that for us. They put Phoenix with a bunch of our brood mares so we should have foals in about eleven months. There are no promises, but next summer you could be training your own colt or filly.”

“Thank you, Papa. I know you told me we could lose him, but now we at least have part of him here yet.”

Smiling then, Matthew ran from the stable to the porch and threw himself into his uncle’s arms. “Uncle Joe, you’re the best. Thank you.”

“Hey now, little man. I thought you told me that I was the best?”

“Oh, Uncle Hoss, you are the best too.”

And Matthew moved from Joe to hug Hoss. Matthew may have been like Adam in many ways, but being raised by two loving and affectionate parents had made him much more able to express his love for his family. Adam joined them on the porch then, and he and Matthew told them all about the trip to Arizona.

Chapter 4

By the following Sunday, Traci was feeling better and rested so Adam decided it was time for them to take a trip to the lake after church services. He asked Hop Sing for a picnic basket, and on the way to the lake, he stopped the carriage so that all three of them could pick some flowers. Adam had packed his sketch book in the carriage as well. They were going to take Matthew to see AC’s grave for the first time. Matthew had seen the small portrait they had and the one with his mother holding AC as a baby but that picture was somewhat blurred. Once at the gravesite, the family prayed together and placed flowers on the grave as well as on Marie’s grave. Then Adam once again told Matthew the story of his three mothers. Once they had done all of that, they went closer to the lake to have a picnic. There, Adam and Traci decided it was time to share their news with their son.

“Matthew, we have something important to tell you. We know you have had to accept a lot of changes in the past few months, but there’s another one on the way.”

“Is Mama going to have a baby?”

Shocked into silence, Adam and Traci stared at their son.

“It wasn’t that hard to figure out. Jillian touches Mama’s belly and smiles at her, and you do too sometimes when you think I’m not looking. Then grandmother did it too when we were in Arizona, and grandfather smiled. It had to be that.”

“Son, sometimes I think you’re almost eight and going on forty. Where did you get so smart?”

“I guess I learned it from you and Mama. Can we go swim in the lake?”

Beaming with a bit of pride over his son’s statement, Adam didn’t want to disappoint him but had to. “We don’t have anything to swim in. So it will have to be another time.”

“Why don’t you swim like you did in the pond at home?” Traci smiled.

Both Adam and Matthew stood in shock with their mouths hanging open just a bit.

“Eliza told me. She went to give you a message once and saw you. She told me so I went to see for myself. It was a vision I will never forget.”

By then Traci was grinning, and Adam grinned back. Matthew assumed she wasn’t angry but didn’t quite understand what she meant and why she was grinning, but his father was grinning back so it must have been all right.

“Maybe, we can give you another vision then from right here in Nevada.”

Adam began to remove his clothing and walked to the lake. Matthew wasn’t so sure he wanted to undress in front of his mother, but she sat down and started looking at the sketchbook so he stepped behind a bush and stripped down. Then when his father asked if he was ready, he ran toward the lake and jumped in splashing water all over his father. Adam laughed. That had been a routine ever since the two of them had gone swimming in the ocean. After about an hour, they came out of the water and sat on the rocks in the sun near the shore. Matthew sat where his mother could not see him, and she smiled at his modesty. He was growing up. Adam, on the other hand, sat where she could see him quite well. He rubbed his hands over himself to speed the drying, and her heart speeded up. When he stood to pull on his pants, she started breathing rapidly. At that moment, she decided she would let them have their privacy in the future when they wanted to swim. But she planned to let Adam know how much she enjoyed the view later when they were alone.

As they packed up to leave, Traci asked Adam where they were going to live.

“I thought you wanted us to build a house here near the lake?”

“Adam, I did. But Hoss and Jillian have their own place, and Joe and Amy built a place for themselves too. Jamie and Sue are living in the cottage that Joe fixed up years ago. I think your father would like us to live with him, and honestly, I think I would be more comfortable there too at least for a few years.”

“Well, Matthew, what do you think?”

“I would love to live in Grandpa’s house. I like it there a lot.”

“Well, I guess I’ll ask Pa and see what he thinks about it. With the baby on the way, I don’t know how he’ll feel about it. At his age, he may not want to deal with a baby crying.”

“Your father isn’t that old. Yes, you should ask him though so we can make plans.”

“We have to consider Hop Sing too. He’s Pa’s age, and he’ll need some help to take care of the house with us living there too.”

“Oh, Adam, I can help. There are a lot of things that I can do so he won’t have to.”

Wrapping his arms around Traci, Adam smiled. He had secretly hoped she might feel this way, and to have her bring up the subject and speak so strongly in favor of it made his love her even more. Every day, he found his love for his wife and son grew stronger. As that happened, he was able to relax and enjoy life so much more. To have this woman who adored him wake at his side each morning felt like a dream. To have a loving son who was also smart and well behaved was just as important, and Adam thanked God as often as he could for those blessings in his life. He was smiling as he packed up the blanket, picnic basket, and sketchbook. He helped Matthew climb into the back of the carriage, and then helped Traci into the front. Once on the seat, he snapped the reins and headed home. Traci slipped her arm through his and leaned on his shoulder.

At dinner that night, Ben was entertained by all the talk the three of them had about their day together. As Hop Sing set dessert on the table, Adam asked him to stay in the dining room for he had a question to ask. Ben was concerned at that point but waited.

“Pa, I know it will be asking a lot of you, and putting a burden on Hop Sing too, but Traci and I would like to continue living here in the house with you. I know there’s a baby on the way and that could affect your decision. Whatever you say will be fine with us.”

Ben remained silent but his heart was swelling. When Adam finally stopped talking, Ben stood and moved to Adam’s side placing a hand on his shoulder.

“It’s a dream come true. I wanted at least one of my sons to live here, and I was thinking it was never going to happen. Oh, Adam, thank you.”

Tears ran down Ben’s cheeks then and Adam stood and awkwardly put an arm around his father. This was not anything he had expected, and he didn’t know how to respond. Traci laid it out for him.

“Give your father a hug!”

So he did, and then Traci and Matthew made it a group hug. Adam looked to Hop Sing who was smiling.

“Hop Sing, is that all right with you?”

“Missy Traci all time big help to Hop Sing. Matthew hard worker too and help Hop Sing. Good for family. All time happy now. Now eat dessert. Hop Sing work hard on cake.”

Hop Sing returned to the kitchen with a smile and a bounce in his step he had not had for some time.

As Traci lay in Adam’s embrace later in bed, she watched him as he gazed at her. He liked looking at her which always made her feel so good. After all these years, she was the only woman he looked at that way. Attractive women did get a look from him because he was a man, but Traci had noted how he looked at them like they were works of art: appreciative but not loving. He looked at her with a look that said he would do anything for her and give her anything she asked as long as she stayed by his side. That was how her mother had described how he looked at her when they visited in Arizona. As she had observed her husband since then, she had to agree that her mother had nailed it. He looked at her with love and longing.

“I wonder what Marie is thinking now.”

Adam pushed himself up on one elbow to look down at her. “What do you mean?”

“When I was fifteen and you were sixteen, wasn’t this exactly what she was worried about?”

Grinning, Adam leaned down to kiss Traci. “I think she would be ecstatic about how it all worked out.”

Adam laid down again and wrapped his arm around Traci as she turned her back to him and snuggled back to spoon with him. It was her preferred way of sleeping and with her pregnancy, it was the most comfortable too. As her tummy grew, it would be the only way she could sleep. As she felt Adam’s breathing slow, she closed her eyes and the two of them fell asleep as they had for much of the nearly ten years they had been married.

Chapter 5

By mid-September, Adam and Traci had settled into a routine at the ranch. Adam was doing quite a bit of work with the timber and lumber operations. In addition to designing a new lumber mill, he was working with some builders in the area to produce lumber for their projects. He had convinced them that by ordering according to a drawn plan, they could eliminate a lot of waste and increase their profits. It only had to work for one before the others clamored for his services as a designer. By charging only a small commission for the plans, he was able to increase the Ponderosa lumber operations significantly.

At the house, Traci had taken over most of the garden work as well as much of the laundry for Hop Sing allowing him to concentrate on the work in the kitchen. Meals were even more delectable than they had been before, so everyone came out a winner on that one. Matthew was helping Traci every day but would soon start school in the fall session. Both Adam and Traci were concerned about the quality of education he would receive, but also knew they were capable of filling in any gaps. With all the books they had brought with them, Matthew had more books to access than most people ever saw even in a library in a small town.

With Joe’s help, Adam, Traci, and Matthew had new horses too. Adam’s was a big sorrel who looked much like Sport and Adam called him Jupiter. Traci’s beautiful horse had a reddish coat with a blonde mane and she called her horse Mars. So it was natural when Matthew was assigned a small, fast pony to ride, he called him Mercury. Adam rode with Matthew on his first day of school to be sure he knew the way although he really wanted more to be there for his son’s first day of school in Virginia City. He had missed his first day of school in Nantucket due to work and Traci has escorted him that day. Hoss arrived soon after they did with his three children and Joe’s in a wagon. Hoss’ oldest could have ridden in by himself, but the other three were Matthew’s age or younger, and their mothers especially did not want them riding in without an adult.

“Ya gonna ride in with him every day?”

“No, but today I wanted to be here. He can ride to your house and ride in with you on the other days if that’s all right.”

“Course it is. Ya want him in the wagon with the rest?”

“No, Matthew is a good rider. He can ride in.”

Once all the children ran to the school house and were mingling together, Hoss turned to Adam.

“Damn, that’s gonna make some trouble for me I think.”

At Adam’s quizzical look, Hoss had to explain.

“I wanted Eric to be able to ride too, but Jillian thinks that wouldn’t be fair to the other children.”

Adam sat thoughtfully for just a moment.

“Why don’t we say that eight is the cut-off for riding. When each one gets to that age, we’ll let them start riding to school but with the wagon. That way they’re supervised but given a bit more responsibility too.”

“Oh yeah, that sounds good. Eric is almost ten and he gets really ornery about being treated like the younger ones. Even better, that means in about three years, they’ll all be riding, and no one will have to drive the wagon in twice every day. That is until your new one gets to be school age.” Hoss was grinning at that. He thought it funny that the oldest brother was going to have the youngest child in the family.

“Well maybe you and Joe will have another one too.”

“For me, I hope not. I love my children dearly but sometimes I would just like to have Jillian to myself for a bit. Three is enough. I think Joe and Amy would like more but can’t seem to make it happen.”

“I’ll ask Traci. Maybe we could have the children all stay at the house for a weekend. I think Pa would like it, and we could get to know them better. Matthew likes Eric and looks up to him, but the girls tease him a lot and I know that makes him mad. If they were together for a weekend, maybe they would learn to like each other a bit more.”

“Oh, wise older brother, I’m going to tell it to Jillian just like that too. How could she turn that down.”

“Well, Pa has to agree too.”

Hoss laughed like that wasn’t even an issue, and Adam had to smile because he knew that too. Their Pa would adore having his grandchildren there for a weekend.

“Now, I didn’t know Matthew got mad with the teasing. He never showed it.” Of course Hoss remembered how Adam was when he was younger and even now to some extent. You had to know him to see the signs of anger in him. He could hold himself so much in control sometimes that people didn’t realize the temper building inside him.

“Watch his eyes. When he starts to squint, it’s not because of poor eyesight. He’s just concentrating on not blowing up.”

Suddenly Hoss had a revelation. “So when you told him that Phoenix was gone, he wasn’t squinting back any tears. He was mad.”

“Oh yeah, but at least what Joe did allowed him to cool down about it. He’s still upset about it, and has bad dreams about what has happened to Phoenix, but slowly it’s getting better.”

“Good, cause I remember when you used to hold it in. Lordy, we knew somebody was gonna get it when you finally blew. Seems to me it was Joe sometimes, or even somebody in town who crossed you or one of us.”

“I try not to do that anymore. Matthew hasn’t learned yet.”

“How’s it working for you?”

Adam just smiled, and wheeled his horse to ride into town for some meetings he had scheduled. Hoss turned the wagon to head home. Late in the day, Adam rode back to the school intending to ride home with Matthew. What he found was a shock to him though. Hoss was waiting with the wagon and had his children and Joe’s already loaded up and ready to go.

“He’s inside. He got in a bit of trouble today. Eric said it wasn’t his fault, but the teacher sees it another way entirely. We’ll wait a bit.”

Worried, angry, and confused, Adam walked to the schoolhouse and inside where he found two angry parents, a child holding a large wad of cloth to his nose, and a disheveled Matthew.

“Adam Cartwright, your ruffian son beat up our son. I shouldn’t be surprised considering.”

“Rayne, your son is at least four years older than Matthew, and a head taller. How could he have ‘beaten’ him as you claim?”

“Well I’m sure you have taught him to be just like you. It’s not surprising that he would do this.”

The teacher had to step in at this point. “There was no beating. Matthew hit George only once based on what the other children said and what Matthew admitted to doing. Now hitting is not the way to handle a problem, and Matthew needs to be disciplined, but Mr. and Mrs. Tork, your son instigated the altercation by pushing him and then swinging a fist at him so George needs to be disciplined as well. I would like to hand the discipline over to the parents here if you think that you are willing to handle your own sons.”

“Michael and I will take care of our son. Who’s going to pay for his visit to the doctor?”

“I’ll take care of the charges from the doctor.”

“That’s not necessary, Adam. I will accept the responsibility for my son. Rayne, I think it’s time we take our son and go home.”

Michael took his wife by the arm, and pointed at the door for her and George to walk ahead of him. Once they were gone, the teacher turned to Adam.

“George was picking on some girls. Matthew told him that he was a bully, and told him to stop. George pushed him and then took a swing at him. That’s when Matthew hit him and broke his nose. That’s the story I got from the other children and from Matthew. Now George has another version of the story where he did nothing wrong so I expect there may still be some problems from Mrs. Tork. I can see she holds a great deal of animosity toward you.”

“Yes, we have some unpleasant history. It was a long time ago, and I had hoped she might have forgiven me by now especially because she is married and has a child, but apparently that is not the case.”

“I trust I can expect you will handle the issue with Matthew. However much he was provoked, we cannot have him using his fists to solve problems.”

“We will take care of it. Thank you.”

“On another note, Matthew seems well ahead of the students his age. Will you object if I put him with the older children for lessons?”

“Not at all. I’m happy to see that you are willing to adjust for his benefit. Thank you. Matthew will be back tomorrow with an appropriate apology.”

With goodbyes to the teacher, Adam and Matthew left. Adam waved to Hoss who snapped the reins to start toward home. Matthew was going to talk but his angry tone had Adam immediately upset.

“You will watch your tone of voice. We will talk when we get home. You may use the time until we get home to think about how you could have acted better, and how you will apologize to the teacher and to George for what you did.” Seeing the look on Matthew’s face in response to those words, Adam held up a hand to let him know any further words at this point would only make things worse. The ride home was quiet.

Chapter 6

In the stable at home, Adam and Matthew unsaddled and groomed their horses without talking. Once the horses had feed and water, they walked to the house. As they entered, Traci greeted them with a smile that quickly vanished as she saw the looks on their faces. Adam told Matthew to go to the washroom to clean up, and then he walked to the blue chair and sat silently.

“Well, you need to tell me what happened. You look like someone died, but I know you would have told me that right away. So what is it?”

“Traci, our son broke another boy’s nose today.” Adam let that shock sink in before he added more. He was provoked and the boy took a swing at him, but he retaliated without trying to do anything else. The boy was picking on Dorothy and RoseMary, and Matthew stepped up to defend them against a boy who has to be at least four years older and a head taller.”

“He didn’t give me any other choice. He tried to hit me. What was I supposed to do? Let him?”

“You will change your tone of voice immediately.”

Matthew halted and stood defiantly looking at his father but unwilling to say any more and get in trouble for it. Traci didn’t know what to think. He had taken on a boy larger than him and broken his nose.

“Adam, perhaps we should talk before we talk with Matthew.”

With his temper rising, Adam knew that was the right thing to do, but at the same time, he was having a hard time getting control of his own emotions. There was silence for a while until Traci told Matthew to go to his room. Then Traci took Adam by the arm and tugged him to follow her outside. Ben got up from his desk and walked into the kitchen. He wanted to help but knew he could only do so if asked. He would enjoy a cup of coffee in the kitchen and wait.

“So what do you think made him so angry?”

“What?”

“Adam, our son had to be very angry to do what he did. To have him go after someone picking on the very girls who tease him unmercifully doesn’t make sense. He had to be looking for a fight, and the opportunity presented itself.”

Sitting on the bench on the porch, Adam rubbed the bridge of his nose. Traci recognized that sign. He was thinking and he was frustrated at the same time. She waited for him to think it through. She had some ideas but thought she needed to let Adam cool down as well.

“You think he’s mad at me about Phoenix, don’t you?”

“Of course he is. He wanted that horse so much and he loved him. He wanted to keep that horse as his very own. He trusted you to make it happen, but you couldn’t. He’s mad that he’s found out you can’t do everything. He’s growing up and learning that his hero has flaws and weaknesses just like anyone, and that he isn’t all powerful and able to do anything he wants to do.”

“I know. And we pulled him away from the people and places he knew and dragged him out here where even his cousins pick on him for how he talks and acts. But, Traci, we can’t let him hit people because he’s mad. He had alternatives, and he chose not to use them.”

“I know that too. Adam, we can’t just punish him though. It will likely just make him angrier.”

“Traci, we have to discipline him. He can’t do things like this because he’s angry. He needs to apologize to George and to the teacher for what he’s done, and promise that he won’t do that again.”

With her arms crossed in front of her, Traci just stared at him. Adam took a deep breath and blew it out. “So what do you want to do?”

“I want you to talk with him. I want you to get him to admit he’s angry with you and probably with me. I want him to tell you what has upset him and why. Then the two of you have to find a way for him to work off that anger and come to terms with the things that have happened. You ought to know how. He’s just like you in that regard. He holds it in and lets it eat him up inside.”

“I’m doing better with that.”

“Yes you are, but only because I won’t let you get away with keeping things from me. That didn’t work very well for us, did it? And it doesn’t work for Matthew either, but right now, he has no one to talk with. He hasn’t made a close friend here yet. The closest is Eric, but I don’t think he trusts him enough yet to confide in him. Remember what you told me about how it was for you at that age? That’s how it is for our son right now.”

Nodding, Adam stood and walked into the house. Traci followed him in to see him head up the stairs. She walked to the kitchen to see if she could get a cup of tea to calm herself. She knew that she had to be careful. The doctor had told her to avoid stress and not to work too hard. Hop Sing had been brewing tea for her and it helped. She really needed a cup at that point.

Upstairs, Adam knocked on Matthew’s door and waited for him to answer. When he heard a ‘Come in’, he entered to find his son at the window staring outside. Adam walked and sat on the bed calling Matthew to come to him. Once Matthew was standing in front of him, Adam began what he knew would be a difficult conversation for both of them.

“You were very mad at George today, weren’t you?”

“Yes, he was being mean and picking on my cousins. You said we can fight to defend ourselves and others. That’s all I was doing.”

“Did you have to hit him, or could you have backed away and let him have a chance to back off or even let the teacher handle it?”

Knowing his father was correct, Matthew had nothing to say.

“I think you were mad and wanted to hit someone, but I think the one you are really the most mad at is me. You’re upset with me for things I’ve done.”

Matthew stared at his father’s face. “You said you would protect Phoenix, but you let him go back to that awful man.”

“Yes, but Phoenix is no longer a show horse. I knew he would not be abused any longer. I did leave a lot of money with Hoss when I left so he could buy the horse if the owner came to claim him, but the owner was not interested in selling. There was nothing else I could do. Sometimes we have to accept a situation as being the best that we can do even if it isn’t what we wanted.”

As Matthew continued to look at him and not say anything, Adam felt he had to continue.

“You’re upset yet that we moved back here, aren’t you? Don’t you like living here?”

“Oh, Papa, I like living here with Grandpa, but I don’t have any friends here, and unless you do something with me, I’m alone. You never asked me if I wanted to live in Nevada. You and Mama just made me leave our home and come here.”

“Matthew, wherever the three of us are, that’s home. We’re sorry we never made it clear to you why we moved here, but it just wasn’t any safer in New England, and we both missed our families. We haven’t been here that long and you only spent one day at school so far. Can you give it a chance? You’ll make friends here.”

“You missed your family? But you’re a man.”

“You never get over loving your family and missing them when they’re not there.”

“Do you still love AC then?”

“Yes, I think of him every day.”

“Dorothy said you just had me to replace AC.”

Anger began to boil in Adam with that comment. He would talk with Hoss about his daughters and their comments. “We had you because we wanted another child. We didn’t know your mother was expecting you until after AC’s death, but we loved you for you from the moment we knew.”

“Do you already love the baby Mama is going to have?”

“Yes, I already do. We will love that child as much as we love you.” With a sudden insight into why Matthew might be feeling insecure too, Adam continued. “But we will have to have more love because we have given so much love to you and that will never change, so we’ll have to grow in our love so we have enough for another child.”

“You can love both of us just the same?”

“Of course. If you can love two parents, can’t we love two children?”

Throwing his arms around Adam’s neck, Matthew buried his head on Adam’s shoulder. Adam felt him sobbing and just held him firmly and reassured him again and again how much he was loved. Once the tears stopped, he pulled his son into his lap.

“I have to do this. It won’t be much longer before I won’t be able to do this anymore. Now, about your punishment: you will write an apology to your teacher tonight. Tomorrow, you will apologize to George for hitting him. And for the next two weeks, you will do no riding. You will go to school in the wagon with the other children. I will take you to Uncle Hoss’ in the morning and he will get you home at the end of the day.”

“I’m so sorry, Papa. I won’t do anything like that again.”

“I hope not. If there’s a next time, the punishment will be much more unpleasant and painful for you. Now, let’s go down to dinner. I’m sure everyone has been waiting for us, and you know how Hop Sing doesn’t like anyone to delay him serving dinner.” Adam grinned. “Or if Hoss is here, anyone delaying him eating it.”

As he took his father’s hand with his hand, Matthew had to smile. His father did have a way of making things better. And despite threats to do so, his father had never spanked him. There were a few times when he had been in tears from his father’s comments to him that he wished he could be spanked like some of his friends were by their fathers. He thought a spanking could never be as painful as that disappointed look his father had and the tears his mother had when he willfully misbehaved. Usually he resolved never to repeat the behavior that made his parents suffer so much as they looked at those times.

Later, after everyone was in bed, Adam lay next to Tracy massaging her back which was already strained because of the extra weight from the pregnancy. He told her about his conversation with Matthew and all of the reasons their son had been so angry. She agreed with him on how he had handled it, but was also angry at the comments Hoss’ girls had been making to their son. Adam said he would talk with Hoss.

“Now, would you explain why Mrs. Tork dislikes you so much?”

With a deep sigh first and then rubbing his forehead, Adam told Traci of how he had spent time with Rayne but had fallen for the charms of another woman while he was still seeing Rayne. He explained that she had rejected him despite his admission and his heartfelt apology. Somehow though, she was still angry at him all these years later and there really wasn’t anything he could do about that.

“Something always seemed to go wrong in any relationship I had. Seems the fates were making me wait until you came back into my life.”

Adam smiled and pulled his wife to him, and she pressed herself to him as they kissed and then reaffirmed their love and desire for each other before falling into sleep still in each other’s arms.

Chapter 7

After breakfast the next morning, as Adam rode with Matthew to Hoss’ house, Traci and Ben talked about what had happened. He was as dismayed as Traci had been at how Hoss’ girls had been acting toward Matthew. Traci told Ben that Adam was planning to speak to Hoss about it.

“Well, I’m sure that after Adam talks with Hoss, those girls of his won’t be sitting comfortably for a few days.”

Sitting quietly for a few minutes, Traci finally had to ask. “Is that how you expect your sons to discipline their children?”

“Well I wouldn’t think that is the only thing they would do, but it certainly worked for my boys.”

Quietly thinking about what Ben had said, Traci wondered if it was her place to discuss this. Ben noticed her pensive look.

“Do you disagree with tanning a boy to get him to follow proper rules of behavior?”

Put on the spot by that, Traci had to answer. “I disagree very much with that. For behavior that is dangerous, there may be no other solution that works as rapidly to make a child stop that behavior. However, to teach a child not to hit someone by hitting them seems illogical to me.”

“I never hit my sons. I did spank them or tan them when they needed it, but I never hit them.”

That last statement made Traci angry, and she said things she would never have said if she hadn’t suddenly become so upset. “I have never understood how a man can pull his belt and lay that strap across his son and not think of it as hitting. What would you do if you saw a man use a leather strap to beat a horse or a dog? You’d stop him if you could, and yet you thought it was all right to do it to a boy?”

Getting angry himself, Ben couldn’t believe Traci was speaking to him this way. When Traci got up to flee to a less stressful environment, Ben was glad for he had been afraid he might say something in anger toward her that would just make things worse, and he did want Adam and Traci to continue to live in the house with him. Later as Ben heard Adam arrive back home, he decided to go speak with him and let him know of his conversation with Traci. Traci was in the garden and saw Ben walk to the stable. At that point, she had a fairly good idea of what the discussion would be about, but didn’t want to be part of it. She walked to the garden bench and sat even though she was worried about what Ben and Adam would discuss.

“Pa, you look worried. What’s wrong?”

“Well, Traci and I had a disagreement. She is apparently completely against spanking or tanning. I thought you could talk to her about it and explain that it is sometimes necessary.”

Taking a deep breath, Adam took some time before answering. He had not wanted to have this conversation with his father, but also realized it was probably inevitable if they lived in the same house. “Pa, I will not be having that conversation with Traci because we agree on that point.”

Surprised and then wondering why Adam felt that way, Ben had to ask. “Don’t you think it worked with you and your brothers?”

“No, Pa, it didn’t, at least not with me. You tanned me a number of times. All it made me do was want to hide things better so you wouldn’t hit me again. It was humiliating too and made me angry more than anything.”

“But you would apologize afterwards and do what I told you.”

“But Pa, none of those apologies were truly sincere. They were made so you wouldn’t get angry again. I did what I was told to do to avoid your anger. I learned to apologize sincerely when I realized I had hurt someone by my actions and wanted to make it right again. To see your disappointment or the tears of my brothers did more to change my behavior than anything else. Tanning me caused me to fear you and to be angry with you. It only changed my behavior because I wanted to avoid being hit. Inside me, it did nothing. I want Matthew to develop a feeling of right and wrong inside his heart.”

“So you didn’t spank Matthew for what he did.”

“I didn’t want to humiliate him or make him angry. I wanted him to understand what he had done and why it was wrong. I hope that the conversation we had did that. If not, we may have to have another talk about it, but he asked for my help last night in composing an apology to his teacher, and this morning, he will apologize to George although I am not sure his apology will be accepted. We talked about how he was to handle himself if George was unwilling to forgive.”

“You and Traci have some very liberal ideas.”

“Pa, don’t you think Matthew is a well-behaved boy who treats others usually with respect and kindness?”

“Yes, of course he is. He is one of the most well-behaved and respectful boys I have ever known.”

“Well then can you at least accept that Traci and I are using the best method of discipline for him even if you don’t agree with it?”

“You’re his parents so of course you should do what you think is best. I’ll adjust. I’ll be sure to let Traci know that there are no hard feelings because we disagree. I love that woman like a daughter, and I wouldn’t want anything to come between us.”

“Good. The doctor doesn’t want her stressed or working too hard. He’s concerned about her being with child at her age. So am I.”

“Son, you’ve had so much tragedy in your life. I will pray every day that this works out. I have this feeling that it will.”

After the conversation with his father, Adam went looking for Traci and found her in the garden sitting on the bench. He sat down beside her and put his arm around her shoulders. She immediately leaned into him and cried a few tears. Adam caressed her back and waited for her to relax.

“It’s all right. Pa and I talked. He wants you to know that even though you disagree, he loves you, and has agreed to disagree with us. It will be all right.”

Traci smiled up at Adam, and as usual, he couldn’t stop himself. He leaned down and kissed her and pulled her into his arms. She reciprocated. They loved each other so much and wouldn’t let anything come between them again.

For the next few months, life for Adam and his family improved immeasurably. At school, the girls looked at Matthew as a hero and often shared treats with him or asked him to have lunch with them. The boys, who still wondered a bit at Matthew’s insistence on wearing clean clothing and using good manners, gave him a grudging respect though for taking on a boy so much larger than him and winning. They had a lot of questions for him on how he had learned to do what he did. As Ben observed the interplay between Matthew and his parents, he had to admit that although unconventional in his mind, the parenting methods that Adam and Traci used with Matthew certainly were working well.

By Thanksgiving, Doctor Martin was able to give Adam and Traci good news too. Her pregnancy was progressing normally and the worry he had initially was gone as Traci felt better and stronger as her pregnancy progressed. He continued to insist that she avoid stress and too much physical labor but otherwise insisted that there was nothing out of the ordinary for them to worry about.

Once the snow started to fall, Matthew and Eric no longer rode their horses to school for it was too dangerous and too hard on the horses to stand outside all day. One of the fathers drove a wagon or the sleigh with all the children bundled up in back to school on days when the weather was cooperative.

When Christmas arrived, it was the most joyous in years with the entire family present. There was a lot of fun watching so many children opening gifts by the tree. The whole family sang carols with Adam playing guitar. Winter wasn’t going to feel so long with family gatherings like that to keep everyone in better spirits. Eric and Matthew were becoming close friends too and began to play games together, and talk very often. The two of them were the major instigators of snowball fights, and excursions to use their new toboggan. Most of the family would usually come back covered in snow and laughing from these escapades.

For the Christmas holiday as well as the days when the family had fun together outside, however, Traci was sitting in a chair with her feet elevated. She was getting close to the expected arrival of the baby, and her legs and back ached a lot. Adam, Jillian, and Hop Sing all did what they could to alleviate her discomfort, but she knew as well as they did that the only true relief would come with the delivery of the child.

Traci began to hope this child would come at least a bit early, and she got her wish. By the end of January, Ben was being awakened almost each night by the cries of his hungry granddaughter. He couldn’t have been happier with the situation. Within minutes, her cries would end and he knew her parents were taking care of her needs. He remembered fondly that first night when the baby arrived, and how relieved and proud Adam had been.

Adam had worried so much the last month that his wife was carrying their child. His greatest fear was losing Traci, but he could not say that to anyone. He had this feeling that if he ever said it, it might come true, so he held that thought in his mind and tried to keep it buried. On the night that Traci began her labor, he never slept. He paced, he checked on her progress, and he brought coffee to his father who waited with him, but didn’t close his eyes for a moment.

Ben was sure that Adam had prayed with more sincerity that night than he probably ever had in his life. But the cry of the child sent Adam running up the stairs where he found his wife holding their newborn. Once the baby was cleaned up and Adam had been assured by Traci that both of them were fine, Adam had walked down the stairs with Hope to show his father and Matthew who had awakened early. Ben had a picture in his mind of how Matthew had sat in a chair and let Adam put his little daughter in his son’s arms, and how Matthew had pledged to protect his little sister from every danger and teach her everything he knew. It reminded Ben so much of Adam when Hoss had been born. It was one of the best winters that Ben and Adam could remember, but they still looked forward to spring.

Chapter 8

As the thaw melted the snows of winter, rivers and streams swelled dangerously, and once again, the Cartwright children were kept away from school by nature. There was a lot to do, and the parents were very capable of providing instruction and learning activities when school was unavailable. Both Eric and Matthew loved animals and looked forward to the foals that spring would bring. Matthew was especially excited for some of the mares would foal the offspring of Phoenix. He hoped at least one would look like his sire because Joe had promised him that he could have that one as his own if it happened.

Each day when they could, Matthew and Eric would be by the pasture where Joe had the mares who would foal that spring and early summer. One of those days, Matthew and Eric found one of the mares lying on her side and heaving in obvious distress. Eric knelt by the mare’s side and stroked her neck and cheek trying to calm her.

“What’s wrong with her, Eric? We never saw any of the other mares like this?”

“Matthew, run to the house and tell them. This horse is going to foal and it’s not working right.”

So Matthew ran as fast as he could and was breathless when he reached the house. He couldn’t speak clearly at first and Ben and Traci were very worried that something had happened to Eric.

“No, not Eric, the horse. One of the mares is lying down and looks really sick. Eric said she is going to foal and that something’s wrong.”

“All right. Matthew, can you go to the breaking corrals and let your Uncle Joe know? Traci and I will go down to the pasture as soon as I can let Hop Sing know that he is to watch over Hope.”

Rushing to the pasture, neither Ben nor Traci thought to tell Matthew to go to the house after he contacted Joe. So when Joe arrived in the pasture, Matthew was with him. Eric had seen this type of thing before having grown up on the Ponderosa, but Matthew had only seen horses already trained to ride. This was his first experience with foaling, and it was traumatic for him. The mare didn’t make it, and the foal was weak. They had to tell him that even with bottle feeding and round the clock care, the foal might not make it. That night Traci and Adam were in the stable late when Matthew came out to see the foal.

“Papa, can I feed him?”

“He’s very weak, so I’ll help you. You have to give him a little like this, and then pull the bottle away, and then tip his head up a little and rub his neck so he’ll swallow. Then you let him take the bottle again. It takes a long time to feed him.”

But Matthew was diligent, and managed to get the full bottle into the colt before t colt was too exhausted to take any more. Traci went to get another warmed blanket for him, and Adam rubbed the colt’s sides and legs to stimulate him. Matthew watched what his father was doing and then started to do the same on the colt’s other side. When Traci returned with the blanket, they wrapped it tightly around the colt. Ben arrived to see how they were doing.

“Adam, I can help for a while. You and Traci have been out here most of the evening.”

“Thanks, Pa. Traci needs to feed Hope, and I could use some dinner. Matthew, come on in. It’s going to be bedtime for you soon.”

“Papa, can I stay with the colt? I’ll help Grandpa, and I can lay down on the extra blanket if I get tired.”

Adam looked undecided, but Ben made it easy. “He can help me, and I’ll see to it that he sleeps too. He’s a lot like you and Hoss are when there’s an animal that needs care. Traci’s that way too. We can’t deny him his heritage, now can we?”

Nodding, Adam asked his father to come wake him in a few hours. Then Adam took Traci by the arm and walked to the house. He knew that this could be a very difficult night for his son. After midnight, Ben knocked softly on Adam’s door. After just a short time, Adam appeared at the door with his clothing in hand. He would dress in the hall so he wouldn’t disturb his wife and daughter. Ben handed him the lamp he was carrying.

“Matthew slept too, in the stable. He’s awake now. I got him a bottle of milk, and he’s feeding the colt. Adam, that colt might just make it. He seems like he might be just a bit better. I hung a blanket in front of the fireplace and it should be warm when you go downstairs.”

Surprised that his father had let Matthew sleep in the stable, Adam nodded as he pulled his shirt and pants on but carried his boots with him as he walked down the stairs. When he got to the stable, he stood in the door for a moment with the warm blanket. His son was concentrating so hard on feeding the colt, he wasn’t even aware his father was there. His face was in a frown as he fed the colt using the method his father had taught him. Adam watched and thought the colt did seem a bit better. It appeared that he was sucking and swallowing better. He said his son’s name softly so as not to startle him, and then walked in to drape the warm blanket over the colt.

Early the next morning just after dawn, Hoss and Eric walked into the stable to see Adam feeding the colt and Matthew asleep in a pile of blankets.

“Adam, you need to get some sleep. You been up all night like this?”

“Pa helped for a while so I could sleep for a few hours, but you’re right. I could use some sleep.”

“Go on to the house then. Eric and me will take over here. That colt looks some better I think. He been taking the bottle?”

“Yes. Matthew has had the best luck with feeding him. I didn’t want to wake him so I was feeding him this one. We’ve been feeding him about every two hours, and throwing a warm blanket over him about that often too.”

“Rubbing him down?”

Nodding, Adam stood by his son reluctant to wake him. Hoss put his hand on Adam’s shoulder. “Just let him be. I’ll watch over him.”

“Thank you. Joe said he’d be over here this morning too. He didn’t want to leave Amy and Pauline alone at night.”

Hoss took the bottle from Adam’s hand then and shoved him gently toward the door. Hoss handed Eric the bottle and he watched as his son fed the rest to the colt. By the time Adam awoke it was nearly noon. He had entered his bedroom to find Traci nursing Hope. Normally he would have watched for he found nothing more heart-warming and soul-satisfying than watching his loving wife feed their daughter, but he had undressed and slipped into bed closing his eyes after just a minute. After shaving, he headed downstairs and found everyone except Matthew at the dining table.

“Is Matthew sleeping?”

“Nah, he slept until Joe got here. Then he woke up and helped us with the colt. He won’t leave that colt’s side except to use the necessary. Ya got yourself another horse lover, older brother.”

“Yeah, older brother, he is as intense as you, but as gentle with that colt as Hoss is with every critter under the sun.”

Eric had gobbled down his lunch and asked to be excused. Ben smiled as Hoss allowed his son to go back to the stable to help Matthew with the colt, but Traci halted him giving him a plate of food for her son.

“Hoss and Adam, those two remind me of you two when you were young. Except for the switch in who’s the oldest, they are so different and yet so close. They’re almost like brothers.”

“That’s good. I like having Matthew here. Eric was kinda lonely sometimes with only the girls around. It’s real nice having another boy here.”

“And I like that they’re getting along better too. I know Matthew had some trouble with the girls at first but that seems to have resolved itself.”

“Oh yeah, I had a talk with those two. They like to gossip and listen in on adult conversations and then spread around what they hear whether they understand it or not. When Matthew put that George in his place, that helped too. For one, that George had been picking on them a lot. I told the girls they shoulda told me what was going on, and I also talked to Eric about that. He wasn’t getting picked on but his sisters were so he shoulda said something too.”

“I remember being that age and wanting to take care of things myself.”

“Yes, and I remember having similar conversations with all three of you boys.”

Joe turned his head to look at Adam who returned the look. They were men for a long time now and Pa persisted in referring to them as boys. Well they apparently would have to accept it for he wasn’t going to change now. Hoss had never seemed to mind it though so he kept talking, and the conversation got back to the colt. All of the adults went to the stable after lunch to see how the colt was doing and were surprised to hear the boys laughing. Once they were in the stable they could see why. Matthew was wet all over his front.

“Pa, it was so funny. The colt was drinking and then he sneezed or something and all that milk sprayed all over Matt. I started laughing so hard I almost fell down.”

With a smile on his face yet, Matthew stepped back to the colt who raised his head for another drink apparently wondering why his lunch had been delayed. Noticing how alert the colt seemed, Hoss had to say something.

“It’s too early to be sure, but it looks like that colt is gonna make it. Darn little thing sure is beating the odds.”

Hearing Hoss, both boys looked at the adults and grinned. Life out here was hard, but successes like this one made it all so much better. Even though this colt would make it, Matthew now knew that a number of them would not. He thanked God in his prayers at night though that this one he had nursed first had survived.

Two weeks later, Adam rode into the yard and saw Traci carrying Hope and walking in the pasture with Matthew who was leading the colt. Adam dismounted and leaned on the corral fence watching them. Ben walked outside when he heard Adam return and came up to him at the corral fence.

“It’s a beautiful sight, isn’t it?”

“Pa, it is the most beautiful sight in the world.”

“Did you make a decision about that job offer from San Francisco?”

Adam nodded and Ben nervously waited for his response. “I turned them down. But they are persistent. They will send commissions here for houses, and I’ll send drawings to them. Occasionally I’ll have to go to San Francisco or other cities to survey lots before I work on designs, but it won’t be that often.”

“So you’re staying here.”

“Of course. I couldn’t give this up now.”

Having seen Adam return, Traci walked back to the fence. She kissed Adam and handed Hope to him who smiled and cooed when she saw her father. They stood and watched Matthew release the lead rope so that the colt could run. In the sun, the colt’s white coat looked almost silver. When Matthew thought he had run enough, he whistled, and the colt returned to him. Matthew rubbed his forehead and then his neck and the colt walked beside him without the lead as they returned to the stable.

“Matthew asked Joe today if he could keep this colt.”

Adam was surprised. “I thought he wanted one of Phoenix’s foals?”

“That’s almost exactly what Joe said. But Matthew said the colt needs him, and everyone will want one of Phoenix’s foals, but he’s the only one who wants this colt.”

Ben liked the situation. “Yes, Eric has been practically begging Joe for one of those foals when they come. This will make it easier for Joe to have only one of the boys to please. Hoss has been worried that there might only be one colt, and then Eric would have been so disappointed.”

“What did Joe say?”

Traci looked at her husband and shook her head. “Well what do you think he would say to that? Of course he said yes. Matthew named the colt today.”

“What did he call him?”

Pausing just a moment, Traci grinned as she told them. “He’s named him Benji!”

Trying to hold back, Adam couldn’t and started laughing, and Traci joined in. Ben tried to maintain a serious demeanor, but he couldn’t either and joined them in the merriment. Matthew walked out of the stable and wondered what was so funny, but he was smiling. Benji was his, and he would be riding him within a year. He couldn’t wait to tell Eric he had his own horse now.

 

Tags:  Adam Cartwright, Ben Cartwright, Hoss Cartwright, Joe Cartwright

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Author: BettyHT

I watched Bonanza when it first aired. In 2012, I discovered Bonanza fan fiction, and started writing stories as a fun hobby. I have hundreds of stories now. If I am unavailable and anyone needs permission to post one or more of my stories on a site such as Bonanza Brand, AC1830 and/or Mo1427 are authorized to give permission in my absence.

8 thoughts on “A Boy and His Horse (by BettyHT)

  1. Matthew learned some difficult life lessons in this story but with a caring family he came out stronger for them. So glad he is settling in with his cousins and he has a horse to love. I think Matthew has the makings of a good doctor or vet some day considering what he’s been through with the horse. Glad to see Adam’s family is growing and that they are staying with Ben.

    1. Thank you. I tried to imagine what Adam would be like if he had the advantage of a stable home with a mother’s love, a good education, and so on — Matthew is the result.

  2. Sweet story. Not just horses, but all pets have a special place in our hearts. It’s funny how something that doesn’t speak can complete your life so easily. With an owner like Matthew, Benji will sure be one spoiled horse with lots of love and happy years ahead.

    1. Thank you so much. Yes, pets can certainly fill up our lives. Matthew needs that horse to love and will definitely spoil him but not too much as he has a father who will teach him moderation.

  3. So very much enjoying these stories and this one about learning right from wrong was excellent. What wonderful families they all have and a new addition to Adam’s too. Pleased that Pa won’t be on his own too.

    1. Thank you so much. Although I didn’t want to make Adam seem like too much of a modern man, he seems like he would be ahead of his time so he wouldn’t necessarily follow the conventions of the time either. Trying too to end each story on a happy note.

  4. This is another great story. Each story gets better and better. I like Adams way of raising his son. The way he teaches his right from wrong is great. Thanks

    1. Thank you so much. Yes, he teaches his son there are no easy answers and the boy is picking up on how to make good choices.

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